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A new approach to standby planning: delivering for the Ops Control.


Crew rosters are built with many objectives in mind.  One of which is to develop robust solutions for the Operation Control Teams.  At Motulus we configured the MotuPlan Crew Scheduling Optimizer to tackle the problem with a different approach.

Life in the Airline Operations Center (AOC) can vary greatly, with some days being fantastic, others challenging, and some days dedicated to recovery. Employees often find themselves relying on their wits and adrenaline, balancing the chaos with careful preparation.

Like any job, having the right tools is essential. In the AOC, technology, data, communication, processes, and teamwork are crucial. Imagine you’re in charge of crew management in the AOC. Flights are delayed, and crew members start falling ill. As delays cause crew to exceed their working hours, new crew are needed. While some airlines can call on standby crew or pay overtime, what happens when no one is available? During severe disruptions, this isn’t unexpected, but even during minor disruptions, the pressure can be intense.

Disruptions can ripple through crew schedules, depending on regulations and agreements. Delays might mean crew members are reassigned from one flight to another or miss subsequent flights due to insufficient rest. On such days, having more standby crew would be ideal.

Crew planning and OCC teams often work together to develop robust plans.

The OCC team communicates these issues to the crew planning teams to help prepare robust rosters in advance. Regular informal and formal dialogues between departments help both sides understand each other’s challenges and develop new processes or standby levels to improve outcomes. The crew planning department then faces the challenge of determining how to increase standby availability and where to place them in the roster. It’s a bit like managing stock levels in a warehouse: too much stock is costly, but too little means running out. Similarly, having too many standbys at the wrong times or on the wrong fleets is ineffective.

Standby plans are typically set in advance, aiming for good coverage and sensible crew usage. Plans are tweaked as the season progresses, based on past performance data. However, traditional methods might not always provide the best solutions. Some airlines are becoming increasingly sophisticated in evaluating where standbys may be needed.

A different approach to standby planning.

Working with a customer, our team explored this problem in depth. Balancing efficiency, cost, crew lifestyle, fatigue, and the needs of the OCC, we sought to provide better standby coverage. Traditionally, standbys are pre-scheduled and then matched to flights. We decided to flip this approach, asking: what if the optimizer determines standby placement? Instead of pre-building standbys, we let the optimizer allocate them during the scheduling process based on a desired flight-to-standby ratio. This ratio can be varied by day of week or time of day to reflect different periods of operational robustness.

After development and testing, this led us to create a unique feature in our Crew Scheduling solution. Airlines specify their preferred ratio of flights to standbys, and the optimizer builds the standbys accordingly, not fixed to specific start times but ensuring good flight coverage. For instance, it might add standbys at different start times rather than to have a set of standbys starting simultaneously.

Good standby practices are still essential. Standbys should be fairly distributed among crew to avoid burnout and ensure they don’t create cascading issues if used. This innovative approach to crew rostering offers a new way of thinking and adds value for our customers. We thrive on solving previously unsolved problems and invite you to reach out to see how we can assist with your rostering challenges.

Photo by Jessica Lewis 🦋 thepaintedsquare on Unsplash